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Planners reject pitch to drill for uranium Print

By R. Scott Rappold
THE GAZETTE (Colorado Springs)
April 2, 2008

CAÑON CITY - The Fremont County Planning Commission on Tuesday night recommended that an Australian company's request for a permit to drill for uranium be rejected.

The plan has split many in the county, and the planning commission also was divided, voting 4-3 against the request for a drilling permit.

"If I'm out there living on a well and there are going to be 700 holes punched, I'd get a little concerned about what's going to happen to my well," said commission Chairman Tom Piltingsrud.

The recommendation of the county planning commission will be sent to Fremont County commissioners, who will vote on the permit next month.

Residents of the Tallahassee Creek area, who came out in droves to hear details of the proposal and express opposition, applauded the decision.

Residents were concerned about contamination of wells, noise and traffic if the drilling is approved.

Black Range Minerals wants to drill 75 test holes in northwest Fremont County, estimating it could pull 46 million pounds of uranium out of the ground. The firm has also suggested it could set up its milling operation there.

The firm drilled from April to December last year without county approval. Officials said they didn't know Fremont County required a permit. As a penalty, the county made Black Range pay double the permit fee.

Keith McNew, one of the three planning commission members who voted to recommend granting the drilling permit, said exploration like that proposed by Black Range is necessary if the U.S. is to achieve energy independence.

"When you bought property you knew you didn't own the mineral rights on it," McNew told residents.

The firm is one of many staking claims and exploring for uranium in a belt from Cañon City northwest through Teller and Park counties.

A resurgence of nuclear power worldwide has spiked uranium prices tenfold since 2003, and Fremont County is thought to have massive deposits. And the presence of the Cotter uranium mill - closed but considering reopening - makes the location attractive.

The area was drilled in the 1970s, the last time uranium prices were so high, but abandoned in the post-Three Mile Island collapse.

Michael Haynes, managing director of Black Range, said the firm wants to finish the exploration of the "world-class deposit."

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